MLS best, the Montreal Impact came to Sporting Park a perfect 4-0 for a Saturday night match-up in front of a sellout crowd.
But they left with their tail between their legs, as Sporting Kansas City finally linked together all the elements that up until this point had only appeared intermittently.
Yes, the defense has been stellar at times over 5 games this season. Indeed, the White Puma‘s back line hasn’t conceded a goal in three games now. But in two of those shutouts KC also failed to find the back of the net, resulting in two straight 0-0 draws.
Not exactly exciting or inspiring stuff.
This game was different, due mostly to the fact that KC’s new Designated Player Claudio Bieler curled a sweet shot into Montreal’s goal just 5 minutes in. The Argentine’s third goal of the season was huge because it forced the Impact out of their defensive shell, a usual tactic that has stymied Sporting time and again over the past few seasons.
“Us scoring early is a big change in the game,” KC boss Peter Vermes said afterwards. “In that moment they still have to try and play. They can’t just absorb pressure and not score.”
One of the reasons KC was able to snag that early goal was a slight shift in philosophy – a shift that I’ve been championing now for several seasons. Instead of spending so much time on the flanks overlapping defenders and sending crosses into the box, Sporting made an effort to play a bit more possession down the center of the pitch.
“There was an emphasis on that, and it’s something we worked on in training all week,” explained an exhausted Matt Besler, fresh off playing 90 minutes in the US’s draw in Mexico City. “The first home game against Chicago, our possession was excellent, but it was a lot of side-to-side passes. But in order to break the opponent down, sometimes you have to be a little more direct with your passing. Tonight was a perfect example of that. It really worked out well.”
Hopefully, this will be the game that signals a permanent shift to this style of play. Sporting has the technical ability now to do it with Uri Rosell, Graham Zusi, Bieler, Benny Feilhaber, and Paulo Nagamura.
And Zusi provided a perfect example of this in the 80th minute when he ran onto a Feilhaber through ball, held off a defender, and sealed the game with a little flick beating Montreal’s keeper.
Feilhaber provided both assists, and is starting to look like the guy Sporting has been missing.
“That’s the kind of guy we’ve needed for a long time – a guy that can find the space behind the defenders and play that ball in,” said Jimmy Nielsen. “He’s doing that time after time after time.”
And as usual, Nielsen summed up the game pretty well:
“We had an outstanding performance today. It was so attractive; it was so sexy to watch. I was so proud. It’s the best soccer we’ve played since I came here.”
Next up is DC United at Sporting Park on Friday, for what is sure to be the 19th straight sellout.